Saturday, July 19, 2014

Death Merchant #11: Manhattan Wipeout

Manhattan Wipeout is a sequel of sorts to the previous Joseph Rosenberger volume, The Mainline Plot. After busting up Joey Pineapples' mob and destroying $300 million in heroin, Richard Camellion - the infamous Death Merchant - stays in New York and goes after another of the city's mobsters: Salvatore Giordano, perhaps the most dangerous gangster in the U.S.

This book is one of the weaker volumes in the series so far. While Rosenberger's action scenes are as lengthy and gory as usual, there is very little resolution after the mad shootout at the meeting of the various mob heads on Long Island. Camellion indulges in all sorts of murderous mayhem, killing mobsters and their bodyguards, but he makes his escape before he can kill Girodano, after hearing approaching police sirens. And then the book ends. But apparently, the secret recordings Camellion was able to make of the meetings is enough for the feds to move against some of the surviving mobsters, so the Merchant of Death will earn his standard $100,000 fee.

While the action scenes in these books are clearly not meant to be believed - and I'm fine with that - the way that Rosenberger handled the secret recordings really bugged me (pun intended). One device hidden at Krantz, Koonze, Rosenthal & Lebokowski (Giordano's attorneys) picks up "every word uttered in the offices of the high-powered law firm". How is this possible? The firm is likely using multiple floors of a large Manhattan office building. But this is how Camellion finds out about the big meeting Giordano is planning. And then when Camellion stakes out the meeting house on Long Island, he ends up shooting about a dozen dart-bugs outside various windows. Once again, I had serious doubts about how well these mics would pick up sounds within the walls of the house (there is also the howling mid-February winds along the water to consider).

However, you don't expect realism when you read about the "incredible adventures" of the Death Merchant. What you do expect - and what you get, over and over again - are hilarious turns of phrase, some godawful writing, and a bit of casual racism.

One hood is describes as being "uglier than a week old pastrami sandwich", while another one "looked like a man who would use Janitor in a Drum for a cologne". After the Death Merchant fires a few slugs into one bad guy, he acts "like he had a wasp in his underwear, he jumped, jerked, and died." And in seemingly every book of the series, at some point Rosenberger describes someone's shot-up head by referring to smashed fruit. This time: "The back of his head resembled a burst pomegranate ..."

The violence is, as usual, minutely described, with Rosenberger outlining exactly what the DM's many slugs do to the human body:
Two slugs missed Provanzano. Two didn't. One hit him in the left shoulder and tore off his arm. The second hollow-point struck him in the left side, flattened out, and tore all the way through him, taking chips of rib bone with it. ...
Al Ponzi tried to escape through the kitchen door, going through it in a dive. Half of him made it; the rest of him caught a .357 slug that tore off his left foot, and four 9mm pieces of steel which hacked through his stomach, his liver, and his gall bladder. Ponzi died in midair.
Elsewhere, Rosenberger describes Camellion firing his submachine gun ("the chatterbox"): "a whining symphony" of slugs, "the hot hornets of ricocheting steel". Rosenberger even teaches us a little bit about Italian food: "... fresh fettucini, boiled al dente European style, twice as tasty and chewy as al dente American style".

Rosenberg's racism is usually so over-the-top that it makes you shake your head in amazement rather than anger. In this book, he refers to Harlem as "coconut-land" and "apeland" and mentions "a coconut dishwasher" working in a restaurant's kitchen. While describing the events of the previous book, Rosenberger recalls the "slant-eyed monkeys from North Korea". He also describes the "spic areas" of Manhattan and refers to Italians as "garlic-snappers".

Other References?: Rosenberger refers to the Chicago mob as "the Outfit", which could be a nod to Richard Stark and his superb series of Parker novels. Elsewhere, someone is called Hardin, which is the last name of another crime fighter in another series: Mark Hardin, The Penetrator (so named because he was an expert at penetrating enemy lines in Vietnam, not due to any sexual prowess (though his last name might hint otherwise)).

Monday, July 14, 2014

Death Merchant #10: The Mainline Plot

Communists in North Korea have created a super-potent, super-addictive strain of heroin called Peacock-4. It only takes one shot to become an addict for life. The North Koreans intend to introduce the heroin into the U.S. and enslave a generation of young adults. As The Mainline Plot's back cover states: "Wreck the youth of a nation and you wreck its future."

So the North Koreans forge a three-way alliance with the Corsican mob in France and the Pinappello mob family in the New York area, to transport 1,000 kilograms of heroin halfway across the world. It's Richard Camellion's job - as the infamous Death Merchant - to bust up the deal and recover the drugs. (This was the fourth Death Merchant book to be published in 1974. Rosenberger was really cranking them out.)

Camellion begins the book in Seoul where he is being followed in his car by Wan Kwo-Do, North Korea's counterintelligence group. He ditches the car at a farmers' market and runs into a teahouse. After gunning down a team of eight assassins, Camellion is off to France to meet with CIA agents and undercover agents of the US Narcotics Bureau.

This time, a seven-man murder squad is waiting in his hotel room. Camellion, tipped off to the instrusion by his E.I.D. device, comes into the hotel room via the fire escape, surprising the goons. He kills all seven and high-tails it out of the building before the cops arrive.

We then get a couple of chapters of exposition, as we go to the House of Fouche, a small winery run by Roger Fouche, the most powerful syndicate boss in southern France. He and four other men are talking about the operation. He is meeting with two North Korea agents and two Mafioso from New York. It is during this meeting that Fouche gets the bad news that the DM waxed seven of his finest assassins in the hotel room. (At one point, Rosenberger actually writes that the North Koreans "remained silent, their almond features inscrutable".)

More information is given - including the six stages of preparing heroin (it's practically a how-to guide) and background on the New York mobsters - as Camellion visits an apartment in Marseille where the undercover US agents are working. The DM sees Fouche as the link and so he proposes to go to the winery and get some information.

After a couple of shootouts, Camellion captures Fouche and gets him to spill the beans on the heroin deal, how it was arranged, and how it will be shipped. He tells the DM the drugs will be hidden in the gas tanks of Renaults in the hold of a certain vessel, but this turns out to be a lie. (The drugs are moved several times from a seaplane to a cabin cruiser to other vessels before being delivered safely to Joey Pineapples' Jersey City estate.)

Camellion arranges a massive ambush on the Pineapples estate and the drugs, hidden under the floorboards in the stables, are destroyed in a fire. The mission is a success, but the Death Merchant realizes that there are four more powerful Mafia families in the New York area ("he had only begun"). And so it looks like that will be the DM's next target: "There's going to be a Manhattan wipeout!"

Joseph Rosenberger has devoted far more pages in this book to fight scenes and shootouts than in the previous volumes. At every stop Camellion makes, he has to blast his way out. (The Death Merchant actually gets shot in this book, but he is wearing a vest, so he survives.) At one point, Camellion is using something called The Blaster, a submachine gun developed by the CIA with a whopping 3,117 (!) cartridges in the magazine! As Rosenberger describes the damage that the dozens of slugs do, he showcases his unique style of writing:
The tornado of Blaster bullets did more than wreck inanimate objects; it found three of the troops. One man, to the side of a small sofa, simply fell back dead, his face a bloody pulp, his brains smeared all over the Persian rug. The second man cried in pain, jumped a foot, rolled over, and wondered if there could be life after death. He found out a few seconds later. The third man also had a very important question: could a man live without his stomach, with half his insides scattered all over the floor? Then he passed out and found out that a man could not ...

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Death Merchant #9: The Laser War

In 1941, Nazi scientists developed a laser gun capable of utterly destroying whatever it was aimed at. They had taken it to North Africa for testing but were forced to abandon the weapon, buring it near a series of ancient tombs near Al-Jaghbub, a village in Libya. In The Laser War, Richard "The Death Merchant" Camellion's job is to find and bring Die Brandwunde ("The Burn") back to the United States.

When the book begins, Camellion is on his way to see Otto Frenswagger - one of the only men left in the world who knows where the weapon is buried. However, Egyptian agents from Bureau 7 have reached him first and kidnapped him. Camellion wastes the agents who are remaining in the apartment - and soon decides that he must break into the fairly impenetrable Egyptian Embassy (where he believes Frenswagger is being held) before the Egyptians are able to get the laser gun information.

Armed with two 9mm Soviet Stechkin APS machine pistols and a short-barreled Colt AR-18S (a submachine gun with 30 5.56 mm cartridges) - Rosenberger is very specific about the firearms - Camellion gets inside the embassy via a roof skylight and advances from room to room, his quick reflexes saving his life time and time again, while his 5.56 slugs do their destructive, deadly work. He finds Frenswagger, who has been roughed up but has not talked, and they escape.

Camellion travels to Cairo, disguised as Osgood Godfrey Rodley, a British professor of "Egyptology". He goes to the home of Magdi Al-Shafik, a rugmaker, who is also the section chief of the local Shin-Bet cell. As they are talking about setting up a meeting with Okba Bin Naffa, who would guide the DM to the laser gun location, the house is raided by Egyptian police. Al-Shafik is killed and Camellion (unrecognized by the police) is taken to jail. They know his ID is fake, but they do not know his real identity; they believe he is an Israeli agent. So they handcuff him to a pole in a room where four guards play cards nearby.

Thankfully, the Death Merchant has a tiny lock pick "buried" in his left forearm, between his flesh and the latex scar tissue (which looks like a healed knife slash). While the men are distracted by their card game, Camellion gets the pick out and works it into the left cuff keyhole. Soon he has the cuffs off and he lunges at the men "with the speed of a meteor". With no weapons, he gives a four-finger strike to the throat of one man, kicks another in the kidneys, uses an "axe-hand Judo chop" on a third, and a back-breaking kick to the spine of the fourth agent. Once they are subdued, he grabs their weapons. He also creates some chlorine gas with some extremely handy cleaning supplies (bleach and vinegar)! He puts the mixture near the A/C vent and distributes the gas throughout the building. With other Egyptian agents overcome by the gas, he's able to shoot his way out of the building.

After lengthy discussions about how to get close to the location of the laser gun, the Death Merchant and eight others parachute out of an F-82 a few miles outside of Al-Jaghbub "into a night so dark that not one man could have found his mouth with a five dollar pizza!" They meet up with Okba Bin Naffa and his tribe at the tombs of the Ksar Mara Wadi, north of Al-Jaghbub. In no time at all, they find the buried weapon. It's as if they had a detailed map with an X on it!

Rosenberger cops out when the final battle is about to start. The Egyptians have four helicopters of troops (75 in each helicopter) ready to attack the DM and his small band of men. It is at this moment that the DM decides to try to fire the laser gun, which two of his commandos have been trying to assemble. The batteries, buried in the sand for roughly 30 years, appear to be fully charged (!) and the beam of green light coming out of the laser is at maximum strength. Aiming at one helicopter, the laser evaporates it. It is there one minute, then gone! They do that to two more helicopters, leaving just one to land and send its men to battle the DM. They kill many of them, but are forced to retreat into the underground chambers of a fort. There is one long hallway in the fort, with some rooms off to the side. The bad guys come down both ends of the hallway, but the DM has a flamethrower with him (pages ago, when they rattled off what weapons they were bringing, the flamethrower seemed odd; here is why it was mentioned). They roast dozens of Egyptians and many others flee from the flames. (There is also some hand-to-hand combat, intricately and minutely described - it goes on for 9 pages.)

Rosenberger has not offered much biographical information about the Death Merchant in the previous eight books, but here he identifies him as "Richard Joseph Algernon Camellion, the ex-school teacher from St. Louis". Camellion continues to enjoy eating raisins and blurting out unasked-for opinions about religion. When one of the DM's commandos makes a crude remark about some nearby Arab women, Camellion says, "I'd say they are pretty useless. About as useless as a professor of moral theology, or any other idiot who rearranges man's superstitious fears about gods and devils and calls it 'religion'!"

Monday, June 23, 2014

Stephen King: The Dark Tower V: Wolves Of The Calla (2003)

After nearly being killed by a van while walking by the side of a road in Maine in June 1999, Stephen King realized that he could have died before he finished writing what he has referred to as his magnum opus - The Dark Tower series. And so, in the summer of 2001, he got to work.

Wolves of the Calla was published in November 2003 and the final two volumes came out the following year. King also went back and revised the first volume, The Gunslinger, to bring it into line with the future plots of his extensive story; he added material, while cutting off some loose, dead ends. Finally, he gave the novels subtitles beginning with "R": Resumption, Renewal, Redemption, Regard, and Resistance.

The Wolves story has very little to do with the actual quest for the Dark Tower. Roland Deschain and his ka-tet are following the Path of the Beam, when they come upon the farming town of Calla Byrn Sturgis, and are asked by the townspeople to help them fight against the Wolves, strange creatures on horseback who come once every generation and steal away one-half of the town's many twins. While the children eventually return, something has been done to them ("whatever spark makes them a complete human being, is out forever"). They grow to gigantic proportions, live for only a few more years, and die painful deaths.

King's story covers the events in the month before the Wolves are scheduled to attack the town. Since we know early on that there will be a climatic battle, much of what happens until then is simply King telling us stories - about past battles with the Wolves, Jake's friendship with a local boy, Susannah's strange pregnancy. The New York Times faulted King for "endless pages of 'palaver', as Roland would say" and of immersing readers in the political intrigues of Calla Bryn Sturgis when we all know the ka-tet will leave the town behind and continue their quest after (Spoiler Alert!) defeating the Wolves. At 709 pages, this book could definitely have been much shorter.

King notes in his Afterword that Wolves of the Calla is his tip of the hat to Akira Kurosawa's 1954 film The Seven Samurai (which was adapted into the western The Magnificent Seven, directed by John Sturgis. (The other part of the Calla's name comes from actor Yul Byrnner.) King also mentions the work of Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah, and Howard Hawks.

One of the more interesting subplots concerns the town's white-haired priest, who turns out to be Donald Callahan, one of the characters from King's 1975 novel, 'Salem's Lot. Callahan's story of the intervening years is related in detail, and although it is interesting and well-told, it doesn't have much to do with the main plot. King has claimed that all of his books (and their myriad characters) are part of Roland's world(s) and this is further evidence of that interconnectedness. Callahan actually thumbs through a copy of 'Salem's Lot late in Wolves and is astounded to read about himself and his experiences in Jerusalem's Lot. "A novel is fiction! ... I can't be in a book. I am not a fiction ... am I?"

For all of its build-up, the fight against the Wolves happens pretty quickly (King describes it all in only eight pages, "one of the briefest appearances you'd expect from an antagonist", according to one reviewer) and with minimal casualties on the Calla's side.

Matthew Peckham, SF Site:
[WotC is] a collage of action, western, romance, science fiction, fantasy, meta-narrative, suspense, and horror. In addition to cinematic homage, King culls from a mix of themes: a coming of age tale with no easy transitions; an examination of village life, its politics, its gossips and cowards, and the rituals of inclusion and exclusion; the slow and vexing process of recovery (its second appearance in the series) from substance addiction. Most of all, the book circles back time and again to a theme Kurosawa first explored in Seven Samurai, the traditionalist notion of caste, fate, and acceptance of station or duty.
All of that is true, though King has done all of this much better in his earlier books.

Kevin Quigley writes:
Where Wolves of the Calla mainly succeeds is in its functionality. It neatly sums up the important themes of the first four novels and forwards those of the final two. ... It introduces storylines that will flow through the final books of the series, making these last three books read like a trilogy within the series. ... [WotC] never achieves the resonance or significance [of] the other six Dark Tower novels. Perhaps overly long and lacking cohesion until the final third of the novel, Wolves is, though crucial, the weakest book in the series.
A Book Slut reviewer said King was "remarkably slipshod when it comes to time and place". When various members of the ka-tet travel back to New York City circa 1977, they encounter things that were not present until the 1980s and 1990s (AIDS, advertisements on city buses, fanny packs).

[Baseball Note: Callahan died and entered Mid-World in 1983, so when he hears Eddie is from 1987, he has to ask: "Had the Red Sox won the World Series yet when you left?" Eddie, a New Yorker, explains all about 1986, the Mets, and Bill Buckner.]

I started reading Wolves in late March, but was bored and put it down for a few months before reluctantly returning in June. I'm not much of a fan of the series, but I am interested in the sixth volume because King is going to get seriously meta-fictional - and become a character in his own book (and Roland's quest)!

Next: The Dark Tower VI: Song Of Susannah.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monday, June 09, 2014

Death Merchant #8: Billionaire Mission

I don't have Death Merchant #7 (The Castro File), so I will proceed to the eighth number in Joseph Rosenberger's long-running series: Billionaire Mission.

Cleveland Winston Silvestter is a paranoid, misanthropic billionaire businessman who, after much deep study of the occult, "discovered" that Satan is the true God and controller of the world and that he, Silvestter, is his chosen disciple. Silvestter believes the complete destruction of the human race is necessary to make a new beginning - a new dawn - for Lucifer, with CWS as the new Adam!

His plan to bring it about: assassinate various world leaders and blame enemy nations. When the book begins, several leaders are already dead and only two assassination plots remain: the U.S. President and the Russian Premier. Silvestter plans to retreat to his 850,000-acre sheep ranch in northeast Australia and sit tight as the nations of the world annihilate each other with atomic weapons.

Richard Camellion, the Death Merchant, argues with the CIA about the best way to go after Silvestter. The DM wants to infiltrate his Manhattan skyscraper, but the decision is ultimately made - early in the book, page 44 - to waste him in Australia. So we know that the ultimate battle will come with Camellion travelling Down Under. Camellion first goes to Rome, to meet up with agents from Russia, Britain, France, and Australia, who will assist him in storming Silvestter's massive compound.

Camellion and the other assassins fly from Rome to Bombay and then are transported by yacht to Brisbane, which leaves plenty of time for conversation. And considering Silvestter's religious beliefs are key to the book, Rosenberger has the Death Merchant engage in not one, not two, but three separate arguments about religion. One of the discussions (which becomes a lecture when Camellion is talking) goes on for seven pages!
Whether it's Satanism or Christianity, each form of belief is based on the acceptance of sheer myth as concluded fact. Each is a narrow form of belief, and both are childish. ...

The world would have been spared a lot of pain and suffering if Christianity had evolved into a religion of tolerance as, say, Taoism or Buddhism. Instead the religion of the Bible is as intolerant and militaristic as any Hitler ... a religion that has to go out and conquer the world - and God help those who disagree with it, if you'll pardon the pun! ... The great tragedy is that none of it, not a damned bit of it, has anything to do with the real creator of this universe! ...

I deal only in facts! And I have refused to let myself be influenced by a religion that is more interested in money than men! Behind the Biblical idea of 'Jehovah' stands a political pattern of tyranny, of rule by violence, of mental and moral slavery.
Camellion does not elaborate on "the real creator of the universe". During the debate, the Russian agent discourses on the "sociopolitical domination" of organized religion and points out various inconsistencies in the four "inspired" gospels.

During the voyage to Brisbane, they are met by a large enemy ship sporting an antiaircraft gun on its deck (a German 5.5-cm Gerat 58-AA). After a lengthy shootout - in which Rosenberger tells us what kind of gun each man is using - and some fancy maneuvering by the yacht's captain, Camellion actually leaps aboard the enemy vessel. In no time at all, he has killed everyone on board. Then, after pouring shark repellent over his body, he leaps into the sea and swims back to the waiting yacht!

When the men are back again on dry land, they are flown to within sixty miles of New Eden, and they set off in armoured jeeps. They are met with resistance once they cross over into Silvestter's land, but they get through and storm the main compound. There is a fierce shootout in a gym/pool area: "Pavel [the Russian agent] gave the last rites ... sprinkling them with holy lead from his blessed submachine gun ... From then on, the devil dunces would have to do their calisthenics in Hell ..."
[In the building's hospital] Two patients in bed were too ill even to hold weapons, but that didn't prevent Pavel from giving them shots not called for on their charts - a prescription of 9-mm slugs guaranteed to cure any aliment! No one ever complained about the dosage ...
Rosenberger also delivers his usual hilarious (and often racist) descriptions of the goons and boobs gunning for the DM. This time, they are Italian: "spaghetti elbow bender ... garlic gobblers ... wop cops ... goofy guinea". Also, Silvestter's group of believers are described alliteratively as "Satan saps", "demonologist dummies", and "Lucifer lunatics". My favourite line, which came completely out of the blue: "The old bastard looked about as intelligent as a high-school football coach."

After driving into the underground compound and wasting everyone on the first floor, Camellion and his men quickly race through the other floors, making their way to the sixth and final level and the Hall of Conjuration. The DM and four men blast in, outnumbered 2:1 and quickly out of ammo. What follows is 12 pages of intricately described hand-to-hand combat! One of Silvestter's men catches a knife in the neck, his blood "spurting as thick as a pencil".

The Death Merchant emerges victorious. The CIA wanted Silvestter taken alive, but that was not possible. The epilogue has Camellion already contemplating his next mission: "I've got to go waste some sandcrabs!", i.e., Arabs in North Africa.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Death Merchant #6: The Albanian Connection

In the sixth number of Death Merchant, Joseph Rosenberger has his hero, Richard Camellion, in West Germany at the request of the CIA. The Spider, a world-wide organization of ex-Nazis who escaped Germany toward the end of WWII, have been plotting for 28 years (the book was published in 1973) to gain control of, and reunify, Germany and again seek domination of Europe.

The Spider has been paying millions to the tiny nation of Albania to have its headquarters in a huge cavern in the Alps. But the Albanians - and the rest of the world - are unaware of the true activity going on at Spider HQ: the Nazis are assembling seven atomic bombs, four of which are meant for London, Paris, New York, and Los Angeles, if they do not get their way.

"A fantastic scheme? Camellion readily agreed that it was. But then, the followers of Adolf Hitler had never been noted for having common sense, or any other human quality. The plan was just crazy enough to work."

Yes, Rosenberger actually wrote that last sentence. (Perhaps it wasn't such a cliche 41 years ago.)

The Nazis plan to smuggle in the last of the necessary plutonium - and Camellion's first task is to find and thwart that shipment. Camellion is a master of disguise and so he attends a meeting disguised as a Spider agent from London. However, the plan fails as he does not have the "microdot" - and Camellion has to fight his way out (which he does). He also gets info from one of the goons on when and from where the plutonium is being shipped. He heads to Marseilles and interrupts the shipment.

A few weeks later, Camellion plans to kidnap the Chief of Albania's Secret Police, Colonel General Epineska, and fly him to Greece in a stolen jet, to squeeze him for more information on the base. Two cars of men invade Epineska's country home and a terrific gun battle ends with the DM driving a tractor into the house and setting it on fire. Epineska escapes, so they take Lt. Korfuska as prisoner. (During the battle, the Death Merchant reveals to the Albanians that the Nazis are constructing atomic bombs in their Mount Karob hideaway.)

Epineska spends the next two weeks tearing the countryside apart, torturing and murdering innocent people for information, looking frantically for the DM. He also goes to Falcon I (the Nazis headquarters) for a surprise inspection. He orders the Nazis to dismantle their bombs, and they laugh at him. Meanwhile, Camellion meets with the heads of BND and outlines his plan to attack Falcon I. The other leaders call it a foolhardy plan - "why, such a venture is an affront to heaven". But can they sit idly by and/or negotiate with the Nazis? They cannot. Camellion's plan is to use only Russian arms and equipment, along with GRU-forged papers - so Russia will get the blame if the attack fails.

And so the Death Merchant and 15 others jump out of a plane in darkness, landing in the North Albanian Alps three or four miles away from the Falcon base. They initially plan on destroying a bridge along the one road up the mountain, cutting off the Nazis' supply lines. What the DM actually ends up doing is setting off a mammoth landslide, exploding thousands of tons of rock that come crashing down on tanks and trucks crossing the bridge, killing hundreds of "Heil Hitler halfwits" and "Master Race morons" and collapsing the bridge.

The DM and his men meet resistance when Epineska and about 80 soldiers land nearby and pour out of a helicopter, charging at the commandos. "The Albanians ran straight into a solid steel wall of 7.63 slugs, going down faster than haystacks in the path of a tornado!" The survivors get close enough that both sides are forced into hand-to-hand combat, with Camellion fighting Epineska, eventually throwing him off the edge of the cliff to his death.

When the fight is over and the Albanians dead, the question becomes: Can the Death Merchant fly the helicopter? Of course, he can! As they approach the Falcon base, it looks like a victorious Epineska is returning ... until the copter's guns open fire on the Nazis and tear shit up! After a rough landing, they commandeer two tanks and blast the mountain retreat's huge steel doors wide open and pour in, headed in with an armoured car and the tanks, guns a-blazing!

The Nazis are defeated. And although one atom bomb does explode afterwards, it is far enough underground or within the mountain that it apparently does no damage. Men on the surface feel only a "loud and mighty rumbling" of the ground. ... And the Death Merchant's mind is already filled with thoughts of his next mission - in Cuba.

Rosenberger outdoes himself when describing the Death Merchant's awesomeness:
He had heard about Le Marchard du Mort and didn't have to be reminded that the man before him was the world's deadliest man hunter and the most efficient killing machine in existence. ...

Camellion had an aura of violence around him that was almost physical, a power that left one confused and helpless. ... brooding, almost hypnotic eyes ... a power that was almost diabolical, a magnetism that was irresistible.
Rosenberger refers to Death as the "Pale Priest of the Mute People". It's an odd phrase. An internet search leads me to believe it's from Sir Frederic George Kenyon's poem "The Working Of Robert Browing":
Leave, as ye witness, all my wonted joy
In this dear dwelling. Ay - for here comes Death
Close on us of a sudden! who, pale priest
Of the mute people, means to bear his prey
To the house of Hades.
Although Rosenberger never gives readers any real idea of where the Death Merchant came from or why he does what he does, we learn in this book that Camellion lived in St. Louis, Missouri, as a young boy.